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Suffering of Ukrainian women and children could ‘destroy a generation’, says UN expert

NEW YORK: Sima Bahous, the executive director of UN Women, warned the Security Council on Monday that the trauma suffered by Ukrainian women and children since the start of the war in the country could wipe out a generation.

In particular, she highlighted allegations of rape and other sexual violence, as well as the risk of human trafficking, as she called for an independent investigation to try to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

“Young women who left their homes at night, families separated, the constant fear of the future – this trauma threatens to destroy a generation,” Bahous said, urging the international community to continue its efforts to provide support to the civilians in Ukraine and advance the cause of peace.

“The combination of the massive displacements with the massive presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, has raised all red flags.”

Bahous was speaking at a Security Council meeting requested by the United States and Albania to discuss the effects of war on women and children, particularly in terms of women’s education and political participation.

The meeting was chaired by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister of State for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, and UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflicts. The UK holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.

Monday’s meeting took place amid concerns over the fate of civilians following the escalation of hostilities in the eastern Donbass region and the oblasts or administrative districts of Khersonska, Kharkivska and Dnipropetrovska.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday that heavy fighting and airstrikes on government and non-government controlled areas in Luhansk Oblast destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure. electricity and essential health facilities, leaving millions of civilians without access to vital services and aid.

Meanwhile, Bahous shared with the Security Council the experiences of “exhausted, anxious and fearful” women and children she met during her recent visit to Moldova, which hosts around 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, including the vast majority are women, children or the elderly.

She said the risk of human trafficking increased as the situation became more desperate, with young women and unaccompanied teenagers being particularly at risk.

Despite all the horrors and dangers, she added, women workers in humanitarian organizations and other women’s aid and support services continue to work tirelessly and play a vital role in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. from the country.

“Women make up 80% of all social and health workers in Ukraine and many of them chose not to evacuate,” Bahous said.

“We saw parliamentarians continuing to perform their duties (while) bombs were falling around Kyiv. And we saw the Deputy Prime Minister engaged in the humanitarian response. I saw Ukrainian refugee women in Moldova working in the shelters and taking on roles to support each other.

She called on the Security Council to “continue to use all avenues for peace”. Lamenting the fact that Ukrainian women are largely absent from all ongoing negotiations, Bahous called on the Security Council and all UN member states and humanitarian partners to ensure the participation of women and girls, including members of marginalized groups, in all decision-making, peace, diplomacy and humanitarian efforts.

“Without it, we won’t have peace, development or human security,” she said.

Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes, who visited Ukraine last week, said that in his three-decade career in the humanitarian sector, he had never seen “so much damage done in such a short time”.

He said at least 142 children were believed to have been killed and 229 injured during the war, but added that the actual figures were likely much higher.

Fontaine condemned the “unacceptable” attack on Kramatorsk railway station on Friday as civilians waited to board trains and flee the area. It caused at least 50 deaths and injured 100 people. Fontaine said it was just one of many incidents in which there was blatant disregard for the lives of civilians. Many members of the Security Council also condemned the attack.

Fontaine said that of the estimated 3.2 million children who remain with their families in their homes in Ukraine, nearly half may be at risk of not having enough food. In towns heavily targeted by Russian forces, such as Mariupol and Kerson, he said, families have gone weeks without running water, sanitation services, regular food supplies or medical care.

Hundreds of schools have been attacked or are being used for war, he added, meaning 5.7 million school children and 1.5 million university students across the country are without their education.

“The math is simple,” Fontaine said. “Every day the war continues, children will continue to suffer. As humanitarians, you can count on us to keep doing our job, but there’s not much we can do. It is time to end this war. Ukrainian children cannot afford to wait.

Council members accused ‘Putin’s soldiers’ of ignoring basic principles of the Geneva Convention, including the essential distinction to be made between civilians and combatants, according to Lord Ahmad, who said Russian President Vladimir Putin “fears the female electorate and civil society”. .”

Many council members have called for all incidents involving attacks on civilians, including the one at Kramatorsk railway station, to be investigated.

However, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, called the meeting “Russophobic propaganda (with a) clear intention to present Russian soldiers as sadists and rapists”.

He accused Western nations of distorting and discrediting his country’s “special military operation” and deliberately concealing certain events. He said the information war “unleashed against Russia is as intense as the battles on the ground of war”, and that Ukraine and the West have become “a counterfeit creative agency”.

Polyanskiy added that Russia had “irrefutable evidence of (such a fake) staging in Bucha” and claimed the attack on Kramatorsk was staged to “overshadow” that. He called it a “classic false flag operation of the Ukrainian Nazis” which he said foresees many more staged provocations, including the discovery of mass graves.

He again compared what he called the “Ukrainian nationalist battalions” to the Nazis and accused them of “new depths of unbridled cruelty and blind radicalism in the line of Daesh”.

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